When a burglary suspect bailed out of his car and took off on foot in northwest Oklahoma City earlier this year, pursuing police officers alerted their dispatcher. The dispatcher checked a computer screen that showed a detailed map of the area and the real time location of all the police vehicles in the vicinity. Each vehicle was quickly positioned around the area, sealing off the escape route, police Lt. Wade Gourley said. It was all accomplished over what Oklahoma City officials are boasting as the world's largest Wi-Fi "mesh” network. That means that every city public safety vehicle is tied together on a wireless Internet protocol network that blankets a 555-square-mile area with Wi-Fi coverage. It's the same technology that broadcasts Wi-Fi over a home network, but this one uses five types of encryption to ensure it is secure from intruders. In fact, each city fire or police vehicle is in itself a moving wireless router that can broadcast on the network and serve as a Wi-Fi access point if another part of the network is disabled, said Mark Meier, information technology director for the city. City officials conducted a show-and-tell demonstration of the technology on the east side of City Hall on Tuesday, but it's not the whiz-bang gadgetry that is the key to the success of the network, Meier said. It's the improvement of the public safety network that provides a coordinated communication between divisions and even other communities, he said. What matters, he said, is the improved communication for public safety officers and their willingness to embrace the technology.
Network aims to deliver faster response timesThe network has been live for about 18 months, long enough to show that the heavily encrypted network is secure and that it has worked with few glitches, Meier said. It was built using technology provided by Tropos Networks at a cost of about $5 million. On Tuesday, firefighters, police officers and even city building inspectors demonstrated the capabilities of their in-car and laptop computers to pinpoint vehicles and locations, identify suspects and fill out crucial forms on the fly. "Our only true limitation to this is our own imagination,” said Fire Capt. Jim Kruta as he demonstrated the computer in the cab of a fire vehicle. "What citizens are going to see is our response times are going to be lowered.” Oklahoma City has earned acclaim for creating a technologically advanced network for public safety, Mayor Mick Cornett said. "There is a national perception that we are on the front edge,” Cornett said. "But you would be fooling yourselves if you don't see this as an evolving technology. You need to be as sure as you can be but things change. What this is going to be like five years from now is anybody's guess.”
Battalion Chief Glenn Clark looks at a computer screen in the cab of an Oklahoma City fire truck. Each fire and police unit operated by the city is part of the city's new public safety Wi-Fi network. Photo provided by Zach Nash of the city of Oklahoma City